Falafel feasts raise funds for asylum seekers through March

From left, Sydneysiders Beth, Tommy and Janet enjoy a meal as part of Feast for Freedom.
From left, Sydneysiders Beth, Tommy and Janet enjoy a meal as part of Feast for Freedom. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

Australians keen to cook falafels and raise funds for asylum seekers are being encouraged to host a feast at their home or workplace through March.

More than 800 people have already registered as hosts for the Feast for Freedom campaign, a celebration of food, culture and community launched by the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) in 2019.

"Anyone can sign up to host a feast, with the option to choose recipes gifted by refugees and people seeking asylum," says Alan White, director of fundraising and marketing for the not-for-profit organisation.

Palestinian-style cooked from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre recipe book.
Palestinian-style cooked from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre recipe book. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

"It's about having a crack at cooking something new, and inviting friends and family over for the experience. Guests can make a financial contribution to the feast, which is donated to the resource centre."

The ASRC supports more than 7000 people seeking asylum in Australia, the majority of whom have arrived by boat, without access to government assistance or other support networks.

"On any given night we'll be housing 450 people across the country, including more than 100 children," says White. "We also provide services to help asylum seekers thrive in employment and education."

Lakshay Gumber (standing) serves a Middle Eastern feast to friends an neighbours on the rooftop of his Brunswick ...
Lakshay Gumber (standing) serves a Middle Eastern feast to friends an neighbours on the rooftop of his Brunswick apartment block.  Photo: Justin McManus

The official Feast for Freedom weekend is March 26 to 28, however hosts can choose to hold their event on any day that suits. 

Sydneysider Janet (who requested her surname be withheld) hosted a feast on Wednesday with work colleagues from Australian Ethical Super. 

"I had a lot a fun cooking Persian food with my family for the campaign in 2020, so this year I thought I would try my hand at a few more recipes," she says. 

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Dishes cooked by Janet from the ASRC cookbook – provided to anyone who registers to host a feast – included Palestinian falafel, paruppu vadai (Sri Lankan chickpea fritters), baklava and payasam, a traditional Tamil sago pudding.

"I'm still planning a larger feast with my family and a few guests too," she says. "We raised $1300 last year, so this time we're aiming for $2000."

Meanwhile, Melbourne-based technology analyst Lakshay Gumber is collaborating with neighbours in his Brunswick apartment block to throw a feast every Sunday over the next four weeks.

Tamil sago pudding, payasum, topped with cashews.
Tamil sago pudding, payasum, topped with cashews. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

"We'll have a Burmese lunch on our rooftop first, then in later weeks people are cooking Ethiopian and Persian dishes," he says. 

"I've put my hand up to cook Moroccan food. I moved from India to Melbourne two years ago, and find Moroccan and Indian cuisine share a lot of the same spices. I'm thinking a vegetarian tagine, roast eggplant dip and harissa-marinated olives."

Feast for Freedom is about "celebrating what unites us", says White, while acknowledging the challenges encountered by people seeking safety in a new country.

"We also provide question-and-answer conversation cards to hosts that we encourage people to use. One question might be 'if you had to flee your home in the middle of the night, what three things would you take with you?'.

"Food allows us to have those conversations in a harmonious environment, understand what people seeking asylum go through, and ultimately bring us closer to the refugee cause."

For more information about hosting a feast at home or in the workplace, visit feastforfreedom.org.au.